News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.
It's been an exciting season for Rachel Potter, the young singing actress who is currently appearing in the Tony Award-nominated Broadway revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's Evita. The production at the Marquis Theatre marks the first time Potter, who made her Main Stem debut in The Addams Family, has gotten a chance to originate a role on Broadway. The actress plays Peron's ousted Mistress, and her rendition of "Another Suitcase in Another Hall" is one of the vocal highlights of the musical, which also features the talents of Grammy winner Ricky Martin as Che, Olivier Award winner Elena Roger in her Broadway debut as Eva Perón, Tony Award winner Michael Cerveris as Juan Perón and Max von Essen as Magaldi. Potter, who also played Glinda in the national tour of Wicked, has just released her debut country EP, "Live the Dream," a collaboration with songwriter and producer Justin York. A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of chatting with the upbeat artist, who spoke about her brief foray into Christian music, her long road to Broadway, her work opposite two different Evas (Christina DeCicco plays the role of Eva Wednesday evenings and Saturday matinees) and more; that interview follows.
Question: Since we haven't spoken before, let's go back to the start. Tell me where you were born and raised. Rachel Potter: I was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, and when I was very small, we moved to a little town called Seminole, Florida, which is right between Tampa and St. Petersburg — very close to Clearwater Beach in Florida on the Gulf Coast.
Question: When did you start performing? Potter: Well, my first solo was when I was three years old on the steps of my Baptist church. [Laughs.] And, my best friend and I — he stood next to me — were in choir robes, and his mom held the microphone for us. [Laughs.] So I guess I've always been performing. My parents were rock 'n' rollers. They met in a rock 'n' roll band. My mom [Tanya Shaw] became a Christian music artist when I was very small, and she started touring. She toured with the Southern Baptist Convention, and I used to sell tapes at her tape table at churches. [Laughs.] I've always been a singer for as long as I can remember. It was a little later that I was bitten by the musical-theatre bug.
Potter on opening night of Evita.
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN
Question: When did that musical theatre bug bite? Potter: Actually, not until I was almost grown I guess. In high school it just never was on my radar. My mom had actually majored in musical theatre, but she hadn't had the best experiences, so I don't think it was really something she wanted to push me to do. I sang in my church, and then at 15 or 16, I decided I wanted to be a Christian-music artist. I was writing songs, and this local record company in Florida kind of discovered me through church. And, when I was 16, I put out a record of my original Christian stuff… It's on iTunes, but I don't really advise you to buy it. [Laughs.] I was 16. Enough said. [Laughs.] So then, when I was in college, I went over to Orlando to go to college, and somebody [said], "You should go audition for Disney World," and I was thinking, "That'd be a much better job than working at the Gap, which I'm doing right now." [Laughs.] So I auditioned, and it's so funny to look back because I was so incredibly green. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I took a Christian song in as my song. My headshot was a picture of me holding a microphone — just not a headshot. And, my resume was like: "Jobs Worked: The Gap. Job Duties: Folding clothes. Cashier work." My special skills included my type speed. [Laughs.] I had absolutely zero idea what I was doing, and looking back, I'm sure those casting directors laughed so hard the moment I stepped out of the room. But they were really kind, and they still called me back for The Little Mermaid, and that ended up being my first job.
And, it was funny because when they hired me, they offered me my Equity card. And, I had no idea what that was. So I took it because the Equity rep explained to me that it was a great thing, so I was like, "Okay. I'll take it." [Laughs.] Then later on I realized how incredibly blessed I was that somebody just kind of handed me an Equity card. Other people work for years to get that, so it's kind of crazy that that worked out. Then I went on to do Belle in Beauty and the Beast there and Nemo in Finding Nemo the Musical, and I did the High School Musical shows there. I got a huge taste of what musical theatre was like, and I kind of essentially consider that to be a lot of what my musical-theatre training was. It was like musical-theatre boot camp working at Disney. It was on-the-job training.
Potter goes solo at Joe's Pub
Photo by Monica Simoes
Question: Was it at that time when you thought that this was going to be your career or did you know that earlier? Potter: Well, I always knew that performing would be my career. I just never really narrowed it to what the path would be, but I kind of decided against Christian music because it didn't seem like the right path for my life. When the door opened with musical theatre, I loved it so much, and it was this brand-new world that I didn't really know about, and I think it was a niche that I felt very comfortable in. From the time I was really small, I just grew up in a very Christian household, so everything was very Christian-oriented, but I was still putting on plays when I was three-four-five years old — making my brother dress up like girls. [Laughs.] When I was small, they just happened to be about Mary and Joseph. [Laughs.] At the same time, I was absolutely a musical-theatre kid. I think I just didn't know it. So I think that I had a little bit of a learning curve — a little bit of a challenge when I first began because I didn't have the upper hand like a lot of kids did, where they had class and were learning how to act since they were little. That was something I had to figure out a little later, but yeah, once it started, it just seemed natural to continue with it. I started coming to New York as much as I could to audition.
Question: When did you move here? Potter: …Well, first of all, I'd come up a lot to audition. I had this sort of ambition that I was going to move for many years before I finished college… And, I was coming up as much as possible to audition for random things and stand in line with the masses — auditioned for Ariel in The Little Mermaid on Broadway… I came up for Catch Me If You Can before it was here. It was going out of town. I auditioned. They didn't even look up. I spent all this money to fly up to New York, and the person behind the table didn't even stop looking at their Blackberry while I was singing. I was so disappointed. And, next door they were auditioning Leap of Faith, and it's funny just to see how it all comes full circle. Now both of those shows have been on Broadway… So I went next door, and I actually auditioned for the role that Jessica Phillips [recently played], which is all wrong for me. And, at the time — this was like five years ago — it was even more wrong for me. I just went in. I [thought], "I'm in New York. I paid all this money to get here. I might as well audition for something else." I went in the room, and Pat Goodwin of Telsey was behind the table… He was like, "You know, girl. Nobody's here. Sing a whole song."
Cover art for Potter's new EP
It was in that moment that things began, I think, for me because he let me sing a whole song, and I actually could show him what I could do. And he, afterwards, said, "I've got to show you to Justin Huff, and I've got to show you to this person and this person." And, he was so excited, and the next thing I knew, I was being called in for the understudy for Next to Normal before it was going to Broadway — when it was going out of town. That led to getting all these callbacks, and I was like, "What is happening?" It ended up being me in the final three, and I got to perform in front of Bernie Telsey of Telsey + Company. And then the next thing I knew, I'm back to Florida. I didn't get that job. I'm back in Florida performing in a local theatre company just doing Sharpay in High School Musical, actually, and they called me at rehearsal one day when we were in tech. And, it was Telsey, and they asked me to be on the Legally Blonde reality show. So I came back up here, and I was on the show for one episode. [Laughs.] And got kicked off! But then when that show aired in the summertime, the very next day an agency contacted me on Facebook and asked me if I had representation. I didn't. I graduated. I said [I didn't have an agent], and they signed me. A few months later, I graduate from college and moved on up with representation, which is kind of unheard of. So that was my big move in 2008. And, you would think everything was sunshine and rainbows after that, but it sure wasn't. [Laughs.] My first job in New York was Hooters. So technically my first job was on Broadway, it was just at Hooters on Broadway. [Laughs.]
Potter (right), with Christine Dwyer, on the Wicked tour
Question: How did your first Broadway show come about? Potter: …I continued to work as a waitress. I, for a year, was with that agency and went in for every single audition that I could possibly go in for and never booked a thing. That agency ended up dropping me after a while, and things got pretty rough. It was not easy. And then, by the grace of God, I got a job singing with a wedding band in the city, and I think it sort of renewed my confidence, renewed my strength. It was like doing something that I love to do. It wasn't waiting tables. With that, that sort of turned around my audition life and started booking readings and little things here and there, and then all of a sudden, Wicked called. I had been in for Elphaba about four or five times and never quite made it for one reason or another, never got the job. And then they called me to come in for Glinda, and I sort of rolled my eyes… I was pretty much ready to give up hope at that point. I called my family and told them that I've always wanted to do country music, and things weren't happening here. I was having a great time singing with the wedding band, but I was like, "You know, I think musical theatre isn't for me," and I was absolutely ready to give up, and they called me in for Wicked for Glinda, and I was like, "Whatever. Yeah right." [Laughs.] And, went in and booked it that day! They called me that day and said, "You're leaving next week to go on tour."
While I was on tour, I guess my ambition never quit. I never settled in. I never decided that that's where I was going to stay for a really long time, and I started writing country music while I was on the road. We stopped over in Memphis and met up with a longtime friend of mine, who is a Nashville producer and songwriter-guitar player. His name is Justin York. And, we did a songwriting session, and all of a sudden, I was like, "Oh, this is what I want to do. I'm moving to Nashville. I'm going to save money on tour, and I'm going to move to Nashville." But at the same time I [felt] if Broadway calls, that wouldn't be so bad. [Laughs.] I still was auditioning as much as I could, and I got really close to a few things. In between every city — flying back for Catch Me If You Can auditions and Sister Act auditions right before those guys went to Broadway and never got them…and spent so much money obviously to travel like a million times to come back. And then my agents called and said, "They want to see you for Wednesday in Addams Family," and I was like, "No, they don't! I'm not right for that." They were like, "Well, you decide if you want to come." And, I was like, "I don't have anymore money to spend." [Laughs.] "I cannot do this." And so, I called Telsey personally and was like, "Hey guys, I know that you're bringing me in because you just saw me for all this stuff, and you probably feel bad that I didn't get any of it, so you're giving me another shot. But do you really think I'm right for this because I'm tired of flying?" And, they were like, "Get here," so I did, and I just knew in that moment that that was it. That was my job. I don't know what it was. It was just like the heavens opened up, and a light bulb went off in my head. As soon as I finished that audition, I was like, "That's my job." I got in a cab and went straight to the airport immediately after my audition, and then a week later, I got a phone call when I was on tour — it woke me up — and I woke up my entire house and all my housemates, and we jumped up and down. [Laughs.] That's how Broadway came about. That was my Broadway debut — replacing Krysta [Rodriguez] in The Addams Family.
Potter in The Addams Family.
photo by Jeremy Daniel
Question: Do you remember your first night on Broadway? How did that live up to what your expectation of it was going to be? Potter: Well, you know, I guess I thought, "Oh, this is no big deal." I'd been understudying Glinda in Wicked, so I was playing huge houses as Glinda all over the country, so I was certain that I would be fine. But there was something about being in New York City and being in Times Square. It was just different. And, it was magical. I was so nervous. [Laughs.] My whole family was here, and I went to go meet them at the Olive Garden for dinner right in Times Square. I was so nervous, I swear to God, my shoulders were above my head… I was a wreck, [but] that night was just so magical and so perfect, and I can't imagine anything better. It was really special. Luckily, I had a whole cast that was also replacing, so we all did it together. It was great. It was awesome.
Question: How did Evita come about? Potter: Evita's an interesting story and I think a testament to when something is meant to be, it's going to just be. There's not much you can do about it. I had auditioned for Evita right around the same time that I had opened Addams Family, and the week after I opened Addams Family, I got really, really sick and had the worst sinus infection of my life. So I was on all of these antibiotics and I get a call for Evita… I was stressed and had just opened the show. The odds were not in my favor for this audition. I go in, and I didn't really know the song. I didn't really know the character. I had never seen the show. I dressed all wrong. I dressed really old. I put my hair up, wore makeup, didn't know the song all that well, I was sick. It was like one thing after the other of why I shouldn't get a callback. And, I didn't. I didn't get a callback. That was fine, and I just figured, "Okay. That's not for me." That was in March. Cut to October. I hear that they still haven't found a Mistress for Evita. It was like a voice spoke to me from the heavens and [said], "That's your job." [Laughs.] I was like, "I think that's meant for me," so I called Craig Burns at Telsey, who was casting it and said, "I was sick the last time that you saw me, and I'd love to come back in. I'd love to have the opportunity if you think it's okay." And, he was like, "What the hell, sure. Why not?" So they brought me back in, and they asked me to come back and dance the next day, and then I danced, sang again, went to do my matinee that Wednesday, and during intermission of the first show, they called and said I got it. I actually found out the news in costume as Wednesday, which I thought was funny. [Laughs.] It was just such a testament to that you can't even get in your own way. If something is meant to be yours, you can even screw it up, and you can still get it. [Laughs.] I thought that was pretty awesome, so that's how that came about. At that point, we knew Addams Family was closing, and it was basically the most impactful timing you could ask for. I was only out of work for three weeks before I started rehearsal.
Potter in Evita.
Photo by Richard Termine
Question: How did you go about approaching the role and the song, since you have that one big moment? Potter: Well, I wanted to do something completely different — vocally — because I thought, "If this is something I'm going to do every day, I want to be able to show what I do." I don't want to try and imitate what other people have done because historically the song has been very soprano, very light. It's the same [melody] three times around. I was like, "I want to bring something new to this role and bring a different journey." So, vocally, they were really gracious in allowing me to kind of do my own thing, so the way I do it is to start it soprano and then mix it and then, at the end, I get to belt. So that's how I approached it vocally. But it also made a lot of sense in the journey because I didn't see this Mistress as just like this poor, pathetic soul that's just going to crumble and die in the streets now… The lyrics lend itself to that she's very strong, and she's not going to give up, and she's obviously not lived a charmed life up until now either. So there's an element of scrappiness there in that she's had to fight before, and she's had heartache before. This isn't the first time this has happened, and she's going to be okay. And, it was also easier for me to relate to that because I'm not somebody who gives up… I've worked at Hooters! [Laughs.] So there's an element of like a fighter, I guess, for her. And, the way that we researched her was there was this one mistress… They nicknamed her "the piranha." She was one of Perón's mistresses… It's historically been said that Evita did kick her out, [but] she did not stop coming back… It's interesting to approach something that you really only have one number to attack. That is your rise and fall of your arc. There is nothing else. [Laughs.] And, it's lovely to walk off stage every night with Ricky Martin, I must say.
Question: And, what's it like to play opposite two Evas? Potter: Oh, it's great. They're both so different. Christina DeCicco, who is our alternate — I can really sing her praises all day… Christina is from New York. She's an American through and through, and she brings such a different energy, but it's so, so great, and I hope that more and more people will come see her because she's fantastic. She's Wednesday nights, and she's Saturday afternoons. Her voice is stunning, and we're all very, very proud of her because obviously being an alternate is never an easy job. And, she's done such amazing work just watching. She didn't get as many runs. She got maybe a fourth of the time — not even — probably an eighth of the time that Elena got to rehearse. And, she's so great. She still professes that she's still developing the role, but she's just stunning. And, Elena is such a treat because she's so authentic. She's such a true person — on and off stage. I think she's so genuine in real life, and I think that exudes in her performance on stage as well. She's such a wonderful person. We all adore her. It's funny… I think this kind of wraps it up. Andrew Lloyd Webber came and spoke to us backstage one day and was singing Elena's praises and said, "She's the nicest Evita we've ever had." [Laughs.] And, I think that's true. She's so wonderful, and we all can't help but love her and support her in the role because, to us, she is Evita. She's from Argentina, and she knows this part inside and out. She came into our rehearsals knowing it, and there was a moment in our rehearsals where we got to see her sing "Don't Cry For Me Argentina" for the very first time. And, she was wearing black sweats, and we were in a crappy rehearsal room, and yet we all started crying. For us, she knew the show, and she'd done the show, but for us, this was our first time seeing Evita. And, it was a really, really special moment for our entire company, I have to say. We all really support and love her. I love doing that scene with her. She really pushes me hard every night, and I like that. [Laughs.]
Potter at the Evita opening night party
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN
Question: I know you're also working on a CD. Potter: I've actually finished it, and it's [now available] on iTunes.
Question: Tell me about the type of songs that are on it. Potter: Well, it's like a fusion of country and pop-rock. Pop-country with a rock edge. It's all original stuff. I wrote five of the tunes on the EP. I wrote five of them — co-wrote on five of them — and then the sixth song was written by my co-writer and his friend. It's called "Live the Dream." When I heard the song, he and I were hanging out in New York one time, and he said, "Oh, I want you to hear this song I wrote." We had already written a bunch of stuff together, and I begged him to record the song. That's sort of how the theme came about — live the dream.
Question: After all those years of trying to get to Broadway, now you're in one of the biggest hits of the season and, as you said, sharing the stage with Ricky Martin. What does that all feel like to you? Potter: It's pretty surreal. Sometimes I have to pinch myself. It's great. There's nothing else that I can say except it's wonderful. There are so many people that are trying to get here, and I think sometimes when we're [working], it just becomes a job sometimes. Like anything else you do every single day, it just eventually becomes something you do. So I'm constantly reminding myself what I'm actually doing and what a big deal it really is and how blessed I am… Everybody in our company is just so talented… Everybody is just friends at this point. You kind of forget how talented everyone is, and you're basically in like the Olympics of musical theatre… Like the other day, we were recording the album and you just hear everyone singing together, and you're like, "Whoa! This is like what musical theatre [lovers] across the country are going to listen to, and this is the standard. And, I'm part of the standard? Really!" [Laughs.] This is what I did when I was living in Orlando listening to Thoroughly Modern Millie — the CDs — and Wicked and Legally Blonde. I can remember just studying those albums, and now I'm going to be on one? What! [Laughs.] That's crazy to me, but awesome also.
Question: How involved was Andrew Lloyd Webber? You said he spoke with you backstage. Was he at rehearsals? Was he at the recording studio? Potter: Yeah, he stopped by a few rehearsals, but he wasn't like a part of our building. He sort of just came and saw things once we were finished, and he was very, very happy. He was very involved, I think, on the creative end with our director and our music director and everything. He was very, very tuned in with them, but as far as us seeing him, we didn't see him that often. But when I did see him, however, he walked up to me on the stage after a performance the first time he saw me, and he shook my hand, and he said, "Beautifully sung." That was pretty amazing, and I made a note in my head, "You better write that down." [Laughs.]
[Tickets can be purchased by visiting Ticketmaster.com or calling (800) 745-3000. For more information visit EvitaOnBroadway.com.]
DIVA TIDBITS: I attended a wonderful tribute to late cabaret impresario Donald Smith earlier this week. Read about it here.
Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.